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How to Split Wood Without an Axe

Posted by Jamie Canterbury on May 04, 2021   •   axe, bushcraft, bushcraft camp

Picture this: It’s a cool, sunny weekend out in the woods, and you’ve just come back to your camp after hiking and exploring the area for the day. The temperature’s beginning to drop and the sun’s going down, which means it’s time to start building your campfire. Unfortunately, any kindling sticks you’ve found are damp from the day’s earlier rainfall. 

Most bushcrafters have been there at least once. That’s why this Pathfinder School’s YouTube video features Shawn Kelly of Corporals Corner sharing a few tips and tricks on splitting larger pieces of dry wood without an axe. 

Whether your axe is busted or you just can’t get through with the equipment you’ve brought, this blog will break down how to use a saw of any size to access the dry inner fibers and build your fire. 

How to Split Wood Without an Axe

“Let’s go ahead and say that everything is wet out here and I want to make a fire,” says Shawn. “First time, every time, I’m going to use an axe or a hatchet and split that bad boy.”

That much is true: Using an axe or hatchet is a no-brainer when it comes to splitting wood for your campfire. However, depending on the type of tools you’ve packed and the available wood, this otherwise simple task might not be as easy as you’d hoped. 

Luckily, Shawn offers a solution: Instead, you can “take a pocket knife with a saw or a folding knife with a saw and make a series of stop cuts,” he explains. If you don’t have an axe, or all the sticks you’ve found are damp from the rain, you can still split wood using a basic saw. 

Step #1: Make a Series of Stop Cuts 

With your saw, you’re going to cut into specific sections on the wood you want to split. These cuts are called “stop cuts.” They serve a great purpose when you baton the wood to loosen up the pieces. 

Sawing at three points on the wood you want to split, starting at the top (1:29)

Here’s how you start

  1. Pick three points of the wood at the beginning, middle, and end.
  2. Saw about 1/4th to halfway through the piece of wood on its side at those three points.
  3. Make sure the cuts are even with one another and on the same side so that the fractures will be accurate. 

Step #2: Strike the Wood to Cause a Fracture

Once you’ve got your three stop cuts along the length of the wood, set up the rock or second log that you’ll use to strike against. Then, with your sawed log in hand, baton against the other piece so that the breaks and fractures appear. 

Hitting the sawed log against another log to make fractures (1:55) 

The saw works so well as a firewood splitter because the batoning will cause multiple fractures along the sawed stop cuts. After a few hits, wood pieces should break off instantly. 

“It’s an easy-peasy way to split wood without an axe or a hatchet,” says Shawn.

You can repeat these steps as necessary, especially if you have larger pieces of split wood that you need to narrow down. 


As any good woodsman knows, it’s essential to access the dry fibers of timber if you intend to create a long-lasting fire. Let’s be honest, a fire is oftentimes the line between life and death in the wilderness. 

So, if you’re packing light and can’t fit an axe or hatchet in your gear pack, then knowing how to split logs without an axe is something that can help you even during the most treacherous nights.

If you’re going to split wood with a saw, then you need a high-quality one that can act as a firewood splitter. Be sure to check out all of our saws at Self Reliance Outfitters, including our bestsellers, perfect for splitting wood: 

You can also learn more about survival on the Self Reliance Outfitters YouTube channel, where experts like Shawn Kelly, Dave Canterbury, and many more share hundreds of must-have tips and tricks in bushcraft.

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